Published: July 9th 2010June 15th 2010
The yacht was driven overnight to Punta Suarez on Espanola, the southernmost island in the archipelago. After the best breakfast in South America we hopped into the dingy and luckily had a dry landing before our 3 hour walk. Once again, sea lions played around the dingy and as soon as we got off we were surrounded by vividly red crabs scuttling across the lava rocks, and sea iguanas (live to 80 years) perfectly camouflaged and very hard to spot. We learnt that the sea iguanas can spend an hour in the sea, using their tails to swim, feeding on algae using their 3 pointed teeth. They then return to land, with their bellies on the hot black lava, returning to 35 degrees. They eliminate the salt from their digestive system by spitting it out through their nostrils, which predators (except the Galapagos hawk) believe to be venom and thus stay away. Mockingbirds clean the dried salt off their backs. We were amused to find out that iguanas (and in fact all reptiles except tortoises, turtles and terrapins) have 2 penises, to allow them to copulate around the left or the right of the female; reaching around their long tails. Apparently
they can't use both penises at once though!
The blue footed boobies were by far my highlight of the morning - their feet are so vivid and they look like figurines in photos. They were absolutely unafraid of us, we were, again, inches away from them taking photos. These birds can see only the colours black, white and blue, likewise the red footed boobies can only see black, white and red and as such the species never interbreed. the mating ritual was amusing - each bird paces from 1 foot to the other then stretches out its wings and makes wither a whistling sound (if male) or a honk (if female). The eggs are incubated and chicks fed by both sexes, although pairs only mate for 1 season (3-4 months), unlike the waved albatrosses we saw which mate for life. The sexes are easily differentiated - females are larger, with larger pupils, and their tails point horizontally (whereas the males tail points skyward). We saw blue footed boobies at every turn, many sitting in the middle of the path, and could hear their whistles and honks every step of the way.
Arriving at the cliff edge we found
the nesting site of the waved albatross, even spotting some uncovered eggs; despite the fact that they only lay 1 egg per year (living 40-50 years). None the less the albatross is clever - it will only lay eggs in the southern hemisphere, so breeding them in captivity in the North is futile.
Finally we came to a huge blow hole, where the surf is forced through a natural rock formation spouting sea water 15-20m into the air - mesmerising. This is our guides favourite island, evidenced by the fact he still takes may photos despite having worked in the Galapagos for 20 years.
Back on board we were fed snacks and freshly squeezed juice ahead of another delicious meal (well done GAP!) before a couple of hours for siesta ahead of today's snorkel. Our snorkel site for today was Gardener Bay (also on Espanola Island). The sea was even clearer and more turquoise than the previous day and the sand white, a coral beach. The shore was lined with groups of sea lions so we wandered up and down for photos first, we had to snorkel quite far out to get beyond the sandy water at the
Blue Footed Booby
And Chris snapping an iguana in the background!
shore, and with the water a little choppy it was damn good exercise. We saw shoals of "Dory" fish (Finding Nemo), among many other brightly coloured ones, a puffer fish and a sting ray. Back on the beach we watched the tide come in - every few minutes the waves would wash in another sea lion, who would roll around playing in the surf before waddling up the beach and clambering over any other sea lion in its way.
At our briefing that evening, Hansel explained the origin of the name "Boobies" and the reasons for the differences between males and females as well as the different species. When the Spanish came across these strange creatures for the first time, they thought they were very stupid not to be afraid of humans or fly off, thus naming them "Bobo" or "Bobito" meaning "dumb". An Englishman then contorted the pronunciation slightly to "Boobies". There are 3 species; Blue, Red and Nazca although Blue and Red are never found together as the blue can out-compete red for food - Blue is able to dive 25 feet into the water from a height of 100 feet, and catch prey with 87% accuracy
(note a Pelican is only 30% accurate) whereas reds can only dive 10 feet deep from a height of 50 feet. The Nazca are the middle ground, diving 15feet from 70. But it is the females that can dive deepest, due to their larger pupils. Since the male can only dive for fish in shallow water, he has his tail in a skyward position to allow for quicker braking (females tail is more horizontal). Blue footed boobies have the shortest life expectancy; 10 years versus Reds living to 18 years - this is because Blues have 3 chicks 3 times a year versus 1 chick once a year for the Reds; meaning Blues hit the water 50 times a day to provide food for their chicks; causing more brain damage than the Reds. Fascinating .
poor Rachel was horrendously seasick and had to sleep on the deck in the fresh air. I was thankful to feel well, although I would much rather be on dry land, and when the yacht set sail at 8pm I headed to bed ASAP! Chris's Corner
Gardener Bay is absolutely lined with sea lions, we thought we'd seen lots the day before
but this was something else. We could lie down right next to them with barely a reaction. Some of its males were a little territorial, but that just lead to performances... so much so, when Soph sat posing for photos, one came over, interrupted, and piled its way onto others to make its presence felt. This provided so many photo opportunities, a terrible time for my camera battery to run out! Luckily I had a spare and Hanzel our guide took pictures the whole way through.
There are more photos below